In the new issue of mental_floss magazine, Ethan Trex answers The Biggest Questions of 2009. All this week, he’ll be answering additional questions of various sizes here on the blog.
Like all presidents, Barack Obama and his family will have to pay for their own food while they’re living in the White House. But does someone actually send them a bill? How does this system work?
President Obama may have his own executive chef now, but when his family and personal guests eat what’s coming out of the kitchen, he’ll have to foot the bill himself. Luckily for him, though, the government picks up the tab if he’s having a state function at the White House, which could get pricey since the White House’s website touts that its five chefs can crank out dinner for 140 or hors d’oeuvres for over a thousand people.
Does someone really keep track? Apparently, the White House functions like a luxury hotel in this regard. At the end of each month, the president receives a bill for his food and incidental expenses. Nancy Reagan was famously taken aback by this practice when an usher presented her first bill in 1981, saying, “Nobody ever told us the president and his wife are charged for every meal, as well as incidentals like dry cleaning, toothpaste, and other toiletries.” (Once they got used to the bills, though, the Reagans loved the White House; President Reagan often joked that all the amenities made it like living in an eight-star hotel.)
The president and his family get to pick what snacks they want, what brand of toothpaste they use, and what menu they want the chef to prepare for them, but it can still get a bit pricier than new commanders in chief expect. In a fascinating article in this month’s National Geographic, former White House chief usher Gary Walters said that he couldn’t remember any first families not complaining about the high prices of the food. Walters added that Rosalynn Carter was particularly miffed by the high-priced fare, which must have been a bit more expensive than what she’d been getting in Georgia.
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